Perth-based startup Delta Kilo (aka ‘Storekat’) has won a $294K federal government grant, which matched with the UK’s largest logistics company’s investment will accelerate the commercialisation of their virtual warehouse tech…
They say a cat has nine lives, and often a startup needs at least as many.
Two years ago, Kevin Forcier and the Storekat team were doing it tough.
Having graduated from the Curtin Accelerate program a year earlier and with a desk down at Spacecubed (now ‘Riff’), they were two years in with their ‘Airbnb of warehouse space’ marketplace idea.
“Previously, I had been faced with an issue regarding finding space for equipment that was being shipped for a large scale project mobilisation and finding storage solutions was almost impossible,” Kevin told Startup News.
“The first wireframes were actually scratched out on a napkin between my co-founder and I, over beers and placed on Evernote! When our co-founder, who is super technical, and I discussed solving the problem we started to get excited at how it could change storage for all needs and we proposed a P2P/B2C solution. We worked through the following year on the product and built the MVP by late 2015.
“That year, we were also accepted into the Curtin University Accelerate programme for 2016 (shout out to 2016 Alumnus!), where we received incredible mentorship from the Perth community.”
In mid 2017, co-founder Kevin then took a gamble to pitch at a UK-based tech accelerator that has since paid dividends.
“When we heard about the UK accelerator, we were on our way to the USA to a conference to try and crack storage over there. It was a tough situation that we were in at the time…,” said Kevin.
“It was a bit of a watershed moment. Here was Wincanton plc, the largest logistics operator in the UK, wearing an innovation hat and reaching out globally to startups for solutions like ours. We knew it would be competitive getting in, so couldn’t allow ourselves to become too excited, but the opportunity was compelling.
“We submitted a revised deck of about 14 slides, and went through a process of revision internally and with the LMarks team over several weeks. We were shortlisted and invited to attend the pitch day, however the cost of heading to the UK and not having success over there was a real risk, but we took it anyway.
“Taking a leap of faith we decided to prepare ourselves, booked economy seats via Dubai, called a mate in London to ask if I could lurk at his place and then headed over to attend the pitch day in central London. It was a tough pitch event, and I was massively jet lagged, however was certain of our ability to execute if we were given the opportunity, which we luckily were!”
Over 90 companies from around the globe applied to the Win Squared Labs tech accelerator in early 2017, set up as a partnership between LMarks (tech accelerator) and Wincanton plc (the largest logistics and warehousing business in the UK and Ireland.)
Of the applicants, 24 companies were then invited to pitch, including Storekat, the only Australian company. Kevin flew in overnight from Perth, and travelled to the pitch with minimal sleep.
The Win Squared Accelerator
Well, the rest, as they say, is history.
The judges were blown away by Kevin and his tech, and duly invited him to be one of the 6 participants on their 10-week accelerator program in mid 2017.
Such was the impression Kevin and his tech made on the the 90 year old UK public company, they invested twice as much as they had originally planned to do after the end of the course. Storekat was the only business to win an investment. Not only that, the founder of the London-based tech accelerator also invested personally.
This is a great example of accelerators working exactly as they should: a large company knows it has some challenges, invites clever tech startups to solve them, and then invests in the best.
“After the acceptance to the W2 Labs, there was quite a bit of travel for us to the UK to undertake discovery of problems and propose solutions,” said Kevin.
“We took regular exhausting flights to the UK throughout 2017, arriving jet lagged and catching trains and buses and driving the cheapest little hire cars to all corners of the UK to visit all kinds of warehouse operations to get an understanding of how our solution could be tailored in such a way to exceed expectations of our customers and their customers.
“In terms of the tech changes to the platform; the original engine and architecture is structurally the same, although we did initially underestimate how much additional engineering was needed to be done in order to build out the complicated levels of enhanced functionality required.
“Serious amounts of new code has been written to suit the explicit needs of the logistics industry – stuff that you can’t find out by reading, but (only) by being exposed to all levels of how the logistics industry works, which forms much of the IP behind our product.”
Wincanton has now opened up its 200+ warehouse sites across the UK and Ireland to deploy the ‘Storekat’ (name will be changed) tech solution.
For Wincanton, this is important, as with the looming Brexit deadline of end of March 2019, the company is not sure how much stock it will need to keep in its UK/Ireland warehouses. But one thing it does know – it needs an intelligent business process management system, with high level business intelligence, if it is to maximise its space and efficiency.
Over the past few months, Kevin has been hiring staff as his team get to build out the tech, and run tests prior to going live a few weeks ago.
Still headquartered at Riff, Kevin has to spend a week every month or so in the UK.
The AC Grant
For the past few months he’s also been working with the Accelerating Commercialisation (federal government) program, submitting documentation and applications for a matching $294,000 grant. Last week he was awarded the grant, which will now allow him to fully complete his commercialisation on time, and to spec.
“The grant application itself was not difficult, but was a lot of preparation,” said Kevin.
“I enjoyed the process as it gave us the opportunity to describe our product in detail and the potential it has for the logistics industry and for Australia.
“We were confident in our proposal and the evidence surrounding it. Pulling together everything definitely took time, however we fortunately we have had excellent guidance throughout the process.”
“Winning the grant from the Department of Industry, Innovation & Science brings tangible recognition of our team’s capability, our product suite and its potential to be the game changer we believe it is.
“As a company, we can accelerate our development and focus on the really difficult problems that we are solving and continue to deliver to our customers and their customers.
“The recognition that winning brings to us also opens doors, and we are excited to have those opportunities and look forward to new conversations and delivering more value into the future.
“Over the course of the next year, we aim to expand our customer base, accelerate revenues for them, as well as our business, whilst bringing value to our investors who have supported our team’s vision.”
What parting words does Kevin have for other founders?
“If I can be indulgent… as founders we have a lot to be grateful for,” said Kevin.
“This is not something anyone should do alone, whilst support comes in many forms. I encourage founders to not be afraid to be openly vulnerable and accept that when things get hard, which they do, be comfortable reaching out for support and advice.
“I would like to include this in my thanks to our advisors, our team and the many people who took time to be there and to contribute to our company’s successes, even when there was nothing in it for them.”
Disclosure: the author works for Accelerating Commercialisation, and managed the grant application process.
Main Image: Kevin pitching at Win Squared Labs accelerator in 2017